Come all ye people who bum cigarettes, a warning take from Lee:
My friends Lee and Vicki went to a music show in Roanoke. Lee is six years sober from heroin use. Since cigarettes are considered something of a trigger for the old life, he’s not supposed to have them, but Lee took advantage of Vicki nipping off to the toilet. He requested a cigarette from a smoker outside. When Vicki returned and caught him, he didn’t finish.
This may have saved his life.
As she harangued him (all of us who have loved someone with SUD know this is a loving act) Lee said suddenly, “I have to go to the restroom.” A moment later, Vicki heard a ruckus and followed to find Lee unconscious on the ground, surrounded by a bunch of strangers. Four of them had Narcan out, the rest were calling 911 on their cell phones.
One of the kind strangers administered the anti-overdose drug Narcan as Vicki took Lee’s face in her hands and cajoled, slapped, and screamed him into waking up. He went in and out three times, and registered an incredibly weak pulse when the paramedics arrived. But with the Narcan, he was holding onto consciousness, drenched in sweat, and slowly realizing what had happened.
When the paramedics found that Lee had asked for a cigarette, they exchanged knowing glances, did a couple of checks, and confirmed: the cancer stick had been laced with fentanyl.
“Never, never, take anything from someone you don’t know these days,” the paramedics said, without judgment. “This happens a lot. And we do mean a lot.”
Vicki didn’t really register their warning in the moment. As she says, “I felt so bad for Lee, because being an ex drug addict, his fear and combativeness towards medical responders was triggered and he was panicking. His mind immediately went to law enforcement and I was constantly having to reassure him that this was not that life anymore and he had done nothing wrong.”
The paramedics were sympathetic to Lee’s PTSD and helped Vicki bundle him into their car to head back to the hotel once they were sure he was going to be okay.
I asked Vicki if she thought the guy who gifted the cigarette had known the fentanyl was in there. It can’t be proven, as he disappeared when the trouble began, but Vicki thought he had looked high, when Lee described which smoker gave him the ill-fated gift. The paramedics were also of the opinion that people tend to sneak their drugs into concerts via cigarettes. One more reason not to ask for one, ever.
“I’m just in shock,” Vicki concludes. “You hear the stories about how easy it is but never picture yourself in a situation where that could happen. It’s unreal. But the availability of Narcan and people who knew how to use it was very very inspiring. And I’m pretty sure it saved Lee’s life.”
Feel free to share this story, and please, please do two things: carry Narcan, and don’t ask strangers for cigarettes, no matter how badly you want one.